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"The Next Chapter": To Columbia & Beyond

Birthdays come and go, but one thing has been consistent each year since reaching one’s thirties. January fifth is a day of retrospect and gratitude of how one has gotten to that specific day, year, and birthday. It is always a day of highs and lows paired with the occasional tears. Like clockwork, the sun sets on the fifth, one blows out their candles to make a wish, and thanks to the Universe for all the lessons learned, all the trials that turned into growth, and for the future, she will provide. The journey from a low-class family on Food Stamps in Baytown, Texas, in the early ’90s, to a thriving gay man living in Manhattan is a picture one’s younger self could never have imagined. However, it is a rollercoaster journey that has created who one is today.

Growing up, different was a word one knew all too well. While all our friends lived in a gorgeous brick subdivision, we lived in a double-wide trailer down the road. Their parents were happily married and financially stable, while ours were divorced and struggling to make ends meet. However, not the social or economic divide reinforced how different one was but a small three-syllable word – dyslexic. Diagnosed in the first grade, one’s perception of their self-worth would diminish. The idea that one was not bright or broken would take time to undo the hurt. This ideology would sink deep into one’s brain and often rear its ugly head of doubt. Every six weeks upon report card day, it was evident how mediocre, less than brilliant, and broken one felt. By no means was one failing out of school, but one would not receive a full-ride scholarship for their grades either. Once in high school, one tried to distance themselves from dyslexia by avoiding all special accommodations but was constantly reminded of them every year during our standardized test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test. One hoped for a future free from this misery once in college, but the Universe had other plans in store.

When the acceptance letter for Texas State University arrived, one hoped this new chapter would be a one-way ticket out of Texas upon graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre. These hopes would be crushed by one’s own doing in a matter of months. See, one tried to multitask in high school by dually enrolling at Lee College, our hometown community college, to allow for a more relaxed senior year by eliminating two classes from one’s schedule. However, an overwhelmed extra-curricular schedule, lack of dedication, and working two jobs did not contribute to the most successful grades. One had not even worried about their college GPA until receiving a call from the Texas State University admissions office. To one’s surprise, one had not received the needed 2.0 transfer GPA to be accepted into the University. However, this was caught too late to reject the admission, so one signed a conditional admissions agreement stating a 2.0 GPA average was needed by the end of the semester to maintain enrollment for the spring. Midway through the semester, that lack of dedication kicked in once again. Partying, staying up late, sleeping in, and skipping class became the norm. It was not long before the semester would end, and one would try to climb from Death Valley to the summit of Mount Everest just to stay. Unfortunately, no amount of cramming and overnight study sessions could fix the train wreck one caused all by themself.

Unlike most who would have buckled down and tried again, one believed that maybe a collegiate life was not in the cards for their future, so one entered the American workforce. Thanks to our father, who had a natural ability to talk to anyone, a niche was found in retail. Over the past ten years, one has had the privilege to work in sales, management, buying, and wholesale for small independent retailers like Citizen Clothing to well-known luxury brands like Saks Fifth Avenue and Giorgio Armani. From this time, one was able to understand that sometimes a degree is not needed to be successful in life if one puts in the work, stays dedicated to the job, and shows up.

During the COVID-19 shutdown in Spring 2020, some ten years after being academically unenrolled from Texas State University, one felt compelled to try again at finishing a bachelor’s degree and settle the internal struggle one had faced along one’s educational journey. However, one has set their sights on something grander than musical theatre – political science. From a young age, it was instilled in oneself the importance of being fully engaged in American democracy. Though it was a gradual burn, one became increasingly engaged in our political system with the fight for gay marriage. The more engaged one became, the more one realized the idealized country we were raised to think we lived in was plagued with injustices. Under the heightened division under the last administration, one came to know what future one wanted to carve for oneself. As a new journey began, one had their doubts and wondered if dyslexia or the lack of dedication would rear their ugly heads again. Thanks to juggling a chaotic schedule of two jobs and two college classes at Borough of Manhattan Community College, there would not be time to allow either to creep back in, thus proving one could do this after all.

By the end of the Fall 2020 semester, one was stunned to learn they had earned a 4.0 GPA. Honestly, the moment was as if the sun had finally come out from behind thunderstorm clouds and a spring wind swept in. One broke down into tears, realizing that they were not broken, mediocre, less than brilliant, or unmotivated. One realized the Universe had a nonconventional rollercoaster journey for one’s life. Like most journeys, it would test one’s spirit, intellect, and determination with the lessons learned, the trials that turned into growth, and the infinite future one can create for themselves.

With having a massive gap in one’s collegiate career, one does consider themselves a non-traditional student with an unconventional situation. Being a thirty-one-year-old finishing their Associate’s degree puts oneself in a different category than most who may be traditionally enrolled at Columbia University. Due to the financial needs of adulthood, one continues to work two jobs, one full-time and the other part-time, while taking online classes at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Up until now, this has not been an issue. However, with the knowledge that the majority of the courses needed to finish one’s Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science are in-person, a demanding full-time work schedule, and the financial need for work, one cannot return to a full-time schedule at a standard 12 hours, thus making Columbia University’s School of General Studies the perfect fit. The flexibility the School of General Studies offers its admitted students would allow oneself to integrate into the Columbia community thoroughly, learn from industry-leading professors and balance one’s responsibilities outside of the classroom.

From a young age, our Abuela instilled in us that, “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.” As one has overcome dyslexia, maintained a successful fashion career working two jobs, and completed an Associate of Arts degree in tandem, one has their eyes set on the future of what can be if one stays dedicated to the process regardless of life’s roller coaster. As an out, undetectable HIV+ gay man, one is compelled to use their degree in Political Science to further LGBTQIA+ freedoms and help eliminate HIV/AIDS worldwide. With the recent “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida and the widespread Anti-Trans bills across America, it is apparent that the work in our backyard is far from complete, even with the small victory of gay marriage in 2015. Though typically polarized as a Democrat versus Republican issue, the complexity is more straightforward than that – it is life or death for millions of American kids.

For one, the possibility of future change is fueling their heart in the quest to complete their Bachelor's degree. With a future career in the political world, one can take many different avenues to effect change, though two paths emerge before oneself. As visibility is much needed in this country for the younger generation of the LGBTQIA+ community, first would be a life of holding political office. It is hard to say at this point, whether it will be at the city, state, or federal level, one feels the overwhelming calling to make their voice heard in a public way. Now is the time we must work towards a proper, equal future for all Americans regardless of their sex, gender, race, or political affiliation. Without bringing new ideas, younger voices, and fresh perspectives to the table, we as a country cannot evolve into the best version of ourselves, far surpassing what the framers of the Constitution had envisioned some two hundred and thirty-five years ago.

Though one path is very public, on the contrary, the other is not. One is committed to the vast amount of work that must be done behind the scenes to achieve a brighter future for the United States of America and the world. Ultimately, one can see a future working for the United Nations or the Human Rights Campaign as a public advocate and lobbyist. Each advocate for marginalized groups persecuted by unjust laws both domestically and abroad. Regardless of the job title, employer, or location, one is committed to the end goal of true equality and freedom for all LGBTQIA+ people around the world. The time is now to embrace the rigorous education, learn from the best, and prepare to hit the ground running upon graduation.

When reminiscing on the past thirty-one years of one’s life, the roller coaster that is life has had its fair share of obstacles thrown one’s way. Twisting and turning from a small town thirty miles east of Houston to the bright lights of Manhattan, one fought like hell to be the best version of oneself. With dedication, a strong work ethic, and the future of unlimited positive change to be made in the world, the possibilities are endless with a degree from Columbia University School of General Studies. As John Ruskin once said, “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece."

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When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. – John Ruskin

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